Catch an hour of red-carpet coverage (or an episode of Game of Thrones) and at least one thing will become clear: Braids are bigger than ever. Big as in full of volume and texture; big as in everyone is wearing them. So why does a style that's as old as Pocahontas feel fresh again? "The coolest designers of the moment-Céline, Saint Laurent, Isabel Marant-have a laid-back, nonchalant vibe, and women want that same relaxed approach to their hair," says hairstylist James Pecis. "Braids are a way to both control and decorate your hair without spending hours in a salon." And he would know. Pecis has carved himself a prime spot at the epicenter of the braid trend thanks to the rough, ropy styles he's dreamt up for editorial shoots and runway shows. (The romantic, fuzzy braids he did on model Aline Weber for French Vogue, in fact, had the fashion world rushing to tie their hair in knots.) Pecis taught himself the art of weaving back in elementary school, spending hours creating friendship bracelets ("I thought I was going to get rich selling them") and later studying books on sailing knots. After botching a braid backstage early in his career, he vowed to master the technique and forced himself to practice cornrows on a doll head for 30 minutes each morning before work. He's come a long way since then, and these days, he knows that practice doesn't have to make perfect. "The most modern braids are full of imperfections," says Pecis. "You want them to look effortless."
SWEET & LOW
There are the pigtails of your youth (shiny, tight, tied with bauble elastics), and then there are these: sexy and full of pinup-girl volume.
It may seem pointless to curl your hair before teasing and braiding it, but go with us here: Wrapping large sections around a one-and-a-half-inch curling iron "is like using a magic wand," says Pecis. "It sets the foundation for soft hair with bend and movement." Once you've curled all over, take sections of hair from the top and back of your head and roughly tease the underside. (Pecis teased from the roots to midlength; for less puff, tease just an inch or two from the roots.) If your hair looks like cotton candy at this point, you're doing it right. Take the lower portion of the hair (the unteased part), separate it into two low pigtails, and tie them with clear elastics. Loosely braid each one and secure with a second set of elastics. Then mist the whole airy crown with a medium-hold hair spray.
Temper the masculinity of a sleek updo with a polished braid.
Start by saturating dry hair-really load it up until your hair is damp-with a styling spray, like Bumble and Bumble Does It All Styling Spray. Make a precise, deep side part, then take the side with more hair and clip it out of the way for now. Starting at your opposite temple, take three small sections as if you're about to do a French braid. But here's how you'll detour from the classic: Because there won't be any hair to add in from the side of the braid that's right next to your face, weave that side like a standard braid and only add small, even sections of hair to the other side. Continue all the way down the back of your head (until you run out of hair to add in from the top), then braid the remaining length the regular way and secure with a mini elastic. Now move to the other side and gather all of that hair into a ponytail at the back of your head. Braid the entire ponytail tightly and secure it as close to the ends as you can (so you can hide it better later), then pull it up toward the front of your head and use U-shaped pins to secure it down so it covers the part. Curve the end of the braid behind your ear and pin it in place. To finish, bring the first braid up and pin it directly below the second before blasting everything with strong-hold, high-shine hair spray.
These gravity-defying braids look intimidating, but they're surprisingly simple-the result of making a bunch of square knots.
Clean, smooth hair-surprise!-isn't ideal for gripping knots, so prep with enough texturizing spray to give your hair a dry, rough feel. Part it off center and begin on the side with less hair. Take two sections from the temple, tie them together as if you're starting to tie your shoes, then add one more piece to each side and tie again-tightly. Work your way toward the back of your head, adding in pieces until there's no more loose hair left to add. (Adding hair in is what keeps the braid flat against the scalp.) When you reach the nape, tie the two pieces you're left with over each other until you reach the ends, then secure with a mini elastic. If your hair is medium length or shorter-and you've really gone to town with the texturizer-the braid will be stiff enough to stick out from your head. (Longer hair is usually too heavy and will droop a little, but it still looks cool.) Repeat the same process on the other side of your head, only this time, start from the back of your head and work your way forward. When you get to your forehead, pin the tail under so it forms a fluffy little pompadour.
- Dry Shampoo. Spray it on before braiding to absorb oil and create a gritty texture. We love Oscar Blandi Pronto Dry Shampoo Spray.
- Teasing Comb. It adds volume fast. Our pick: the Ulta Rat Tail Comb.
- Mini elastics. Full-size ties can overwhelm the tail of a braid. Try Goody Mini Elastics.
- Hair spray. A flexible-hold spray is usually enough, unless the braid is really intricate or your hair has lots of shorter layers that threaten to slip out. We like Vidal Sassoon Pro Series Flexible Hold Hairspray
- Hairpins. Mini bobby pins help secure stray hairs; U-shaped pins hold thick braids in place; regular bobby pins tuck bangs out of the way or tighten loose braids.
How to Make a Braid Last
- Prevent slippage. To keep straight, smooth hair from sliding out of a braid, work texturizing wax down the length with your fingers before you begin braiding.
- Go heavy with hair spray. Spray it on while you're braiding, then mist the finished product with more than you think you need, says hairstylist Isabel Guillen of the John Barrett Braid Bar in New York City. Trust us: Any stiffness will translate as texture.
- Fix flyaways. If a piece of hair falls out during the day, Guillen suggests sliding a bobby pin in the middle of it, then twisting the pin so the hair wraps around and covers the metal. Pin it underneath the braid.
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